India racing drivers struggling to make a mark

CHENNAI: Indian motor sport
switched gears in 2009, but rarely, if at all, into overdrive. While the election of Vijay Mallya to the World Motor Sports Council of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) following a fairly successful season for his Formula One team Force India grabbed the headlines, Indian racing drivers and riders did not make much of an impact on the big stage. A second Indian, after Narain Karthikeyan, in a Formula One team remains a distant dream though the possibility of India hosting a Grand Prix race in 2011 could become a reality despite the current roadblocks to the project and the consequent pessimism, if not cynicism. The 2009 season was disappointing for India's two top Formula racing drivers, Karun Chandhok and Armaan Ebrahim, participating in the GP2 and Formula-2 series respectively, as they struggled to mark their presence. While Chandhok, who turns 26 January 19, finished 18th with 10 points, 20-year old Ebrahim came away with seven points while surviving a 250 kmph crash in June. For Chandhok the sands of time are fast running out. In his third consecutive GP2 season and driving for a Portuguese outfit, the Ocean Racing Technology, he had just one podium finish, a third in the sprint race of the British Grand Prix. His best qualifying position was a fifth in Turkey. In comparison, team-mate Alvaro Parente finished eighth with 30 points with one win in Belgium where he started from pole position. As for Ebrahim, he had his share of bad luck as he had to deal with an under-performing car. Though he did not lack in pace in the highly-competitive Formula-2 field, the fact was that he could not produce big results. On his part, Karthikeyan, who will be 33 on Jan 14, represented Team India in the A1 Grand Prix series and delivered one podium and seven top 10 finishes. In between, he drove an Audi in the high-profile Le Mans series that he is likely to continue next year. His third season in the cash-strapped A1 GP was a nightmare as Team India had no sponsors and he missed seven of the 19 starts. When viewed in this context, his overall performance was nothing to be scoffed at. Down the line, the trio of Ashwin Sundar (20), Aditya Patel (21) and Akhil Khushlani (20), had international stints. Sundar and Patel, both from Chennai, drove in the Volkswagen touring car series in Germany, but were never in the frame as they struggled to come to grips with the machine and also the tracks. Khushlani from Hyderabad finished sixth in the Formula BMW Pacific championship driving for E-Rain Racing team with a best of third place in Malaysia besides fourth in Indonesia and Japan. Supported by Red Rooster Racing, he did show some impressive pace, but finished behind two of his three rookie team-mates. Among the two-wheeler riders, 25-year-old Dilip Rogger, undoubtedly the best in the country, had a miserable year with just one outing in Germany before a crash in the National championship race in Coimbatore ended his season. Meanwhile, Krishnan Rajini and Preetham Dev Moses, both sponsored by Red Rooster Racing, ventured in the Asian and Malaysian series, but neither made a big impression. In Rallying, Team MRF's campaign in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) was far from impressive as their two-car team of Katsu Taguchi and Gaurav Gill was left in the shade by Australian Cody Crocker who won his fourth consecutive championship in a Subaru. However, Arjun Rao Aroor (co-driver Musa Sherif) won the championship in the Malaysian series close on the heels of Lohitt Urs who took the honours in the 4x4 category earlier. On the home front, the calendar was packed with events and disputes, notably in the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) that was launched with a new sponsor in Bharat Petroleum and promoter, India Mines Group - Pro-Sports Promotion. An otherwise well-run INRC suffered from protests, one of which Gill survived, apart from a poor start, to win the title (provisional) for MRF who overcame a stiff competition from Red Rooster Racing. Red Rooster's hopes were dashed after their lead driver Vikram Mathias had a couple of non-finishes. Team TVS swept the honours in the two-wheeler Rallying with KS Aravind topping the leaderboard with a fine run in the concluding round of the series in Bangalore. The JK Tyre National Road Racing championship also had its share of disputes before Ashwin Sundar took the crown after winning an appeal in the appellate court. It was no different in the Rotax Karting championship where Vishnu Prasad and Ameya Walawalkar are tied on points in the senior section with a court hearing on formers appeal pending. Parth Ghorpade (juniors) and Tarun Reddy (micro) took the honours in their respective categories.